Fascisms: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, October 2022

Jeremy was a dandy. At a time when young men were going hippie—growing their hair long, wearing faded, ripped blue jeans with western or tie-dyed shirts, buckskin or Edwardian vests and sandals or cowboy boots—Jeremy wore sharply pressed pleated dark slacks, pastel dress shirts with smart cardigan sweaters highlighted by the occasional ascot, and black or brown wingtips. This was 1970 and I was just such a wannabe hippie when I boarded the local Ventura city bus to sit down next to Jeremy. He sniffed in disdain at my unruly appearance and went back to writing in his notebook.

“I’m on the Prom Committee,” he said, holding his pen in the air between thumb and forefinger. “We’re developing the theme for this year’s Prom. What do you think about ‘a taste of bittersweet’?”

I had no school spirit nor had I plans to attend my high school prom so I simply shrugged. Jeremy was a walking contradiction. Everybody knew he was gay even though he was not out. He was overtly Catholic however and always wore a silver crucifix with a finely tooled image of the bloodied Jesus around his neck. Michael boarded the bus the next stop and sauntered back to where we sat. Michael was a year older and now a freshman at UC Santa Barbara where he had participated in the Isla Vista student riots that burned down the Bank of America. He wasn’t just a shaggy hippie but also a burgeoning New Leftist like myself. Michael and Jeremy despised each other. So while Michael and I chatted, Jeremy and Michael ignored each other. Then Michael happened to mention he “planned to hitchhike around Europe in the summer.”

“Spain is quite lovely, although a tad hot in the summertime,” Jeremy feigned a casual air. “I visited Spain last summer for an Opus Dei retreat and I had such a wonderful time.”

“I ain’t going anywhere near fascist Spain,” Michael snarled. “You ever hear about Guernica? Franco is a mass murdering Fascist war criminal.”

“Oh, please!” Jeremy scoffed. “Franco is not a fascist, he’s a Traditionalist. Under Franco, Spain nationalized the oil industry. But it has a mixed economy little different from other Western European countries, with a thriving free market sector.”

“Franco is a fucking dictator,” Michael said. “And you’re a fucking moron.”

“And you sir are a dupe of Communist propaganda, a shill for Moscow, a useful idiot.” Jeremy finished their conversation and went back to designing his Prom invitation.

Last column I started on Fascism’s[1] logic as the OG of Third Positionism that claimed to go beyond Left and Right; using Gabriele d’Annunzio’s militaristic Italian irredentism and his Fiume Arditi putsch as examples. D’Annunzio invented all the main fascist tropes (plebiscites, adoring rallies, ranting balcony speeches, the Roman salute, a cult of personality). His and Alceste de Ambris’s Charter of Carnaro promised a mishmash of city-state idylls (ancient Athenian democracy, the medieval Italian commune, the Venetian Republic), socio-economic chimeras  (national syndicalism, corporatist socialism), and calculated absurdities (a syndical corporation devoted to “the mysterious forces of progress and adventure,” music as a governing principle). D’Annunzio’s fascist “utopia” never made the leap from words to action. There has never been the attempted realization of any utopian Fascist society anywhere.[2]

Gleichschaltung—the “meshing of gears,” the coordination of every aspect of German society (federal states, churches, trade associations, media, private clubs, et al) and their synchronization to the will of the Nazi party and its Führer—simply infected all of German society with the power struggles within the party and its competing bureaucracies. The “left-fascist” Italian Social Republic, the insipid Republic of Salò that was a puppet of the occupying German military, drew its inspiration from the equally bogus 1943 Manifesto of Verona. Verona called for the abolition of the monarchy, the establishment of a balanced centralized/decentralized republican government,  a sovereign Constituent Assembly, an independent judiciary, freedom of press, syndical associations and factory commissions in industry that were pro-labor in orientation meant to constrain the capitalist class, the transformation of badly managed businesses into parasyndical and parastatal cooperatives, the expropriation of uncultivated lands and their redistribution to poor farm workers. This vast array of promises never existed beyond words on paper.

In 1979 Christian Bouchet’s “left-fascist” Mouvement Nationaliste Révolutionnaire (MNR) proposed a second French Revolution, a united Europe independent of the American and Soviet power blocs, opposition to “Yankee imperialism,” nationalization of monopolies and expropriation of multinational corporations, “abolition of bourgeois privileges,” taxation of capital, national syndicalism within economic corporatism, a Mediterranean-centered foreign policy, working alliances with Third World national liberation struggles, and the establishment of a strong yet decentralized state. To these quasi-leftist propositions, the MNR also combined far right demands for a defense of French and European civilization and the termination of unskilled immigrant labor.

When Bouchet transitioned his MNR into Nouvelle Résistance (NR) in 1991 an organizing strategy reminiscent of the New Left was adapted. It called for creating a “counterpower” of “liberated zones” and “concrete utopias” within the established order; a “counter-society” of cooperatives, small businesses, agricultural communes, alternative media, and artisanal enterprises as a decentralized network of alternative institutions to achieve economic self-sufficiency, subvert the legitimacy and authority of “the system,” and facilitate a unified anti-system resistance. Ultimately, Bouchet abandoned much of his so-called Leftism to join with Le Pen’s National Front under the slogan of “Less Leftism! More Fascism!”[3]

Much has been made in academic circles of the contrast between “right-fascism” and “left-fascism,” which is truly a difference without a distinction. Nazis and fascists claiming to be “leftwing” have made various excuses as to why they never achieved their fascist “utopias,” starting with the vacillating personal dictatorship of Gabriele d’Annunzio in Fiume. The Nazi “leftwing” of Ernst Röhm  and the Strasser brothers, who called for a faux anti-capitalist “second revolution,” were purged by Hitler and the Nazi “rightwing” during the Night of the Long Knives in 1934. Between 1929 and 1943, Italian fascists blamed the failure to fully realize Mussolini’s totalitarian fascist program (creation of the “new man” within the fascist corporate state and a unified Italy) because the authoritarian National Fascist Party had to share power with the Catholic Church and the Italian monarchy. The rump Salò Republic after 1943 was controlled by the Third Reich, so Mussolini then blamed the need to prosecute the war against the Allies for his failures to move left. And the scores of neo-Nazi/fascist “leftwing” groupuscules that emerged after the end of WWII succumbed to constant sectarian infighting and culled regroupment, not to mention a general lack of popular appeal, long before the nonexistence of their varied “left-fascist” programmatic “utopias” became apparent.

But the real reason for the failure of “left-fascism” ever being realized is because there is no true utopia possible within fascism. “Left-fascist utopia” is an oxymoron, and the difference between “right-fascism” and “left-fascism” is bullshit. There can be a rebirth or re-creation of the nation or race, what Roger Griffin called generic fascism’s palingenetic core, but this is a harkening back to a mythic Golden Age, not the desire for some future leftist utopia.

In “The Concept of the Left,” Leszek Kołakowski wrote: “Social revolutions are a compromise between utopia and historical reality.  The tool of the revolution is utopia, and the material is the social reality on which one wants to impose a new form.  And the tool must to some degree fit the substance if the results are not to become ludicrous.” Further along, he wrote: “[T]he Left cannot do without a utopia.  The Left gives forth utopias just as the pancreas discharges insulin – by virtue of an innate law.  Utopia is the striving for changes which ‘realistically’ cannot be brought about by immediate action, which lie beyond the foreseeable future and defy planning.  Still, utopia is a tool of action upon reality and of planning social activity.” Utopia is thus integral to the Left, whether Leninist, left communist, anarchist, or even social democratic. Utopia was the raison d’être for the Russian 1917 Revolution and the 1936-39 Spanish civil war. Little wonder that the generic socialist utopia of a stateless, classless, global human community of liberty, equality and solidarity has such resonance. Fascism has no comparable relationship with utopia. In Russia efforts to enforce Bolshevik policies through military means were known as war communism. A similar attempt to enforce the CNT-FAI’s policies through military means in Spain could be called war anarchism. But without a fascist utopianism there can be no war fascism. Only war.

The bombing of Guernica by the Condor Legion and Aviazione Legionaria was intended to demonstrate the effect of total war. Fascism romanticizes hardened, hierarchical warrior societies like Sparta (which Frank Frost described as “an experiment in elitist communism”) and prefers a state of constant, low-level warfare. Young men are continuously conscripted into the crucible of battle, to be forged into soldiers where the weak are purged and the strong are made stronger. Returning to Roger Griffin’s insight, if utopia is replaced by rebirth, re-creation, or recapitulation, there is also genocidal war. The “liquidation-of-the-Slavic-untermenschen-to-make-room-for-the-Germanic-volk” palingenesis of Hitler’s lebensraum type of genocidal war. To paraphrase Randolph Bourne’s famous quote: “War is the health of Fascism.”

SOURCES:
Personal recollections
Manifesto of Verona (1943)
“The Concept of the Left” by Leszek Kołakowski, Toward a Marxist Humanism (1968)
“Fascist Ideology” by Zeev Sternhell, Fascism, A Reader’s Guide: Analyses, Interpretations, Bibliography ed. by Walter Laqueur (1976); “Crisis in Fin-de-siècle Thought” by Zeev Sternhell, International Fascism: Theories, Causes and the New Consensus ed. by Roger Griffin (1998)
Greek Society by Frank L. Frost (1987)
Dreamer of the Day: Francis Parker Yockey and the Postwar Fascist International by Kevin Coogan (1999)
“The palingenetic core of generic fascist ideology” by Roger Griffin, Che cos’è il fascismo? Interpretazioni e prospettive di ricerca ed. by A. Campi (2003)
The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism by Richard Wolin (2004)
Gabriele d’Annunzio: Poet, Seducer, and Preacher of War by Lucy Hughes-Hallett (2013)
“Neo-fascist mobilization in contemporary Italy. Ideology and repertoire of action of CasaPound Italia” by Castelli Gattinara & Froio, Journal for Deradicalization (2015)
Storming Heaven: Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism by Steve Wright (2017)
CasaPound Italia Platform (2017)
“How ‘Hobbit Camps’ Rebirthed Italian Fascism” by John Last, Atlas Obscura (10-3-2017)
“The fascist movement that has brought Mussolini back to the Mainstream” by Tobias Jones, The Guardian (2-22-2018)
The Darkest Sides of Politics, I: Postwar Fascism, Covert Operations, and Terrorism by Jeffrey M. Bale (2018)
“CasaPound Italy: The Sui Generis Fascists of the New Millennium” by Bulent Kenes, European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS) (2021)
“Hobbits and the Hard Right: How Fantasy Inspires Italy’s Potential New Leader” by Jason Horowitz, NY Times (9-21-2022)

FOOTNOTES:
[1] Fascism derives from the Latin word fasces and the Italian word fasci for a bundle of sticks. During the 1800s fasci also came to signify a political union, group, band or league of individuals, with most fasci being leftwing, democratic, socialist and revolutionary. The most famous of these were the Fasci Siciliani dei Lavoratori (Sicilian Workers Leagues). But in 1914 the Italian syndicalist Alceste de Ambris channeled revolutionary syndicalism into an anti-German, pro-war national syndicalist direction. This split Italian syndicalism with the founding of the Fasci d’Azione Rivoluzionaria Internazionalista—the manifesto of which influenced Benito Mussolini who joined the group. He then fused it with Mussolini’s own Fasci autonomi d’azione rivoluzionaria into the Fasci d’azione rivoluzionaria. Mussolini reconstituted the latter into the decentralized Fasci italiani di combattimento (Italian league of combatants), which he later transformed into the centralized Partito Nazionale Fascista (National Fascist Party, PNF).

As a sidenote de Ambris, ever the national syndicalist, fell out with Mussolini and his PNF. He then briefly associated himself with the leftist anti-fascist Arditi del Popolo (The People’s Daring Ones) to oppose the PNF, Mussolini and the violence of their Blackshirt (squadristi) paramilitaries.

[2] Fascism is often portrayed as having a chameleon-like ideology, a mystical synthesis of countless influences, a syncretic movement changing form to suit a variety of political circumstances. Hence the daunting task even to formulate a Fascist Minimum. Last column I settled on ultra nationalism + populist socialism + palingenesis = fascism as my Fascist Minimum. Fascism’s claim to be more nationalist than conservative nationalism and more revolutionary than revolutionary socialism gives us National Socialism, National Syndicalism, National Bolshevism, National Autonomism, National Anarchism, ad nauseam. Right away the problem arises of how to characterize military dictatorships like the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR) in Peru or Pinochet’s Chile. Can they be considered fascist? Roger Griffin defined such regimes as populist ultra-nationalist which lack a central myth of national rebirth. The MNR led the leftist Bolivian National Revolution, then turned right. With Chile under Pinochet there is the added difficulty that the dictatorship embraced Milton Friedman’s laissez-faire capitalism. Whereas classic fascism (Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy) was big on state-controlled and nationalized sectors and corporate/state coordination, Pinochet’s Chile was a business-friendly authoritarian model that saddled Chileans with little government support and expensive private sector services.

In contrast “right-fascism” (Salazar’s Portugal, Franco’s Spain) was a combination of conservatism, corporatism and extreme nationalism in defense of traditionalist Catholicism. This “right-fascism” championed palingenetic national regeneration (Salazar’s “New State,” Franco’s “New Spain”) in alliance with bourgeois conservatism and theocratic clericalism.

[3] Generic Third Positionist “left fascism” is fond of lengthy baroque manifestos, platforms and programs which don’t amount to shit IRL. Bouchet’s MNR/NR “left-fascist” program was typical of the nationalist-revolutionary movement in its schematic appropriation of capital nationalization and expropriation from the social democratic/Leninist Old Left and the alternative institutions and dual power from the countercultural/autonomist New Left. Under the rubric of far right nationalist revolution the MNR/NR failed to realize any of its flights of fantasy as a wannabe “armed party.”  Nor does attempting a Third Positionist neo-fascist social movement in the programmatic mold of the MNR/NR fare much better.

Consider CasaPound Italia (CPI). CasaPound (House of Ezra Pound) started as a right-wing youth-based squatters movement in a piss-poor imitation of the left-wing social centers created by Italian workerist/autonomist/squatters movements since the 1960s. A group of young neo-fascists occupied an abandoned state-owned building in the Esquilino neighborhood in Rome in December of 2003. Located in a run-down immigrant area—Rome’s “Chinatown”—and serving as a provocation, the squat called itself Casa Pound, styled itself a social center, and reportedly housed 23 families with a total of 82 individuals in 2010. It offered various social services (free medical checkups, food pantry, cafe, etc) available only to native-born Italian citizens. Squats followed in Rome’s Area 19, Latina and other locations across Italy, some of which have been legalized and others evicted. As a social movement initially based in street protests and demonstrations (which frequently devolved into violent street fighting) promoting right-wing alternative institutions and cultural activities (including an “alternative rock” band), CPI took pains to emphasize that it was not an extra-parliamentary movement. CPI tried to establish a political party in 2013 in order to run in the Italian and European Parliamentary elections, and when that failed it became a legally recognized “association for social promotion.” CPI has well under 10,000 members nationally, many of whom have aged out of their youthful aspirations, resulting in the founding of an affiliated “Students’ Block.” Calling itself “extreme, high center” instead of Fascist, CPI touts it’s “beyond Left and Right” Third Positionist ideology as being influenced by “Mazzini, Corridoni, D’Annunzio, Gentile, Pavolini and Mussolini” as well as Che Guevara, Hugo Chavez, and “the great anarchist singer-songwriters Rino Gaetano and Fabrizio De André.” Its interminable 18-point platform (each point with scores of sub-points) is the usual mongrel mixture of leftist populism and reactionary neo-fascism. Or as CPI itself describes its “main political struggles”: “Struggles for the recovery of national, economic and monetary sovereignty with the exit from the Euro and the EU. Struggles against immigration, against the installation of reception centers in neighborhoods, for national preference in the rankings for kindergartens and social housing. Struggles for home ownership (“Social Mortgage”) and birth support (“National Birth Income”).”

The CPI is portrayed as hipster neo-fascists who’ve learned the lessons of Fascism’s disastrous past to adapt fascism to the present. “Never before has Italy seen an explicitly neo-fascist group enjoying strategic viability that CasaPound today enjoys,” writes Bulent Kenes. “Although CasaPound remains marginal from an electoral point of view, its visibility in the Italian system is symptomatic of the ability of the extreme right to assimilate populist and alternative agendas in order to increase the attractiveness of their policies.” Yet the CPI is a pimple on the ass of Italian fascism compared to Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party and the Tolkienization of the hard right.

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Left of the Left: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, July 2022

I sometimes view humanity’s sordid past as one long, interminable tale chronicling organized bands of murderous thugs trying to exterminate each other. Much as I admire the sentiment of pacifism and humanism, I’m neither a pacifist nor a humanist. Homicide seems to be part of our species, with genocide often its inevitable conclusion.

I’ve been on the left of the Left for most of my life; from being a left anarchist in my youth to a half-assed libertarian Marxist today. That means embracing a vision of stateless, classless global communism even as I abhor the terrors perpetrated by Leninist movements and regimes. I consider all forms of Fascism an abomination, and I dismiss the red-brown sophistry of Third Positionism as fascist sleight-of-hand. In the wake of the precipitous 1989-91 collapse of the Communist bloc, there’s been an upsurge of tankyism/campism on the Left that sees world conflict in terms of US-led imperialism versus any and all opposition to imperialism. That anti-imperialist “camp” is considered socialist by default, even when it’s in defense of patently capitalist, authoritarian, totalitarian, even outright fascist regimes. Then there’s the steady rehabilitation of overtly Fascist/Nazi politics. Last column I commented that, when I was growing up I only saw Nazis as fictional TV characters. Now I see them unashamedly flaunting their fascism in the Republican Party and in demonstrations I’ve recently organized against.

So why do I identify with the Left, despise the Right, and consistently choose socialism over barbarism every time? Continue reading

Anxiety: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, June 2022

I’ve always been anxious. Fidgety, agitated, hyper; I was so talkative and disruptive during my early elementary school years my teachers isolated me to my own desk in the back of the class. I still rocked myself to sleep during my adolescence while listening to 50s pop music on AM radio, then early 60s rocknroll on the FM dial; a habit I had to break anticipating dorm life at  UCSC’s Merrill College. My politics turned left anarchist my senior year in high school, and stayed left of the Left ever since. I’ve always gravitated to the action faction of any organization or movement I belonged to, ultimately adopting the 2 June Movement’s mantra: “Words cannot save us! Words don’t break chains! The deed alone makes us free! Destroy what destroys you!”

“Action for action’s sake” became a political panacea, it’s own anodyne, a knee-jerk reflex that superseded critical thinking. It was an easy way for me not to challenge my ultra-gauche political analysis and avoid self-criticism. When in doubt, act. Somewhere in this political process I started self-medicating—first with marijuana, then alcohol—trying but never succeeding in slowing down, blunting that relentless “on edge” sense to my life. I was, and am still dealing with emotional pain, though I’m not quite sure the cause of it. Both my Polish parents survived forced labor camps during the second World War and my father was a falling down alcoholic. There’s a basis in family trauma for my interminable anxieties. Continue reading

Antiwar: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, May 2022

“Peace is not simply the absence of violence or war”—a truism I grew up with in the 1960s. When I first got politics in 1968 I called myself an anarchist-pacifist and affiliated with the American Friends Service Committee, War Resisters League, and similar organizations which promoted the concept that in order to achieve a social order based on peace, one had to use nonviolent methods. I flirted with the eastern religious concept of ahimsa and the western religious notion of turning the other cheek, as well as more formalized nonviolent practices like Gandhi’s satyagraha.  But soon the contradictions of pacifism, specifically the argument that nonviolence doesn’t save lives or guarantee peace in the short or long run, dissuaded me from remaining a pacifist. Besides, I didn’t have the integrity or discipline to practice any form of nonviolence. And while I rejected the pacifist notion that nonviolent ends require nonviolent means, I incorporated the whole “means-and-ends” argument into my anti-authoritarian politics at the time.

So I opposed the Vietnam War, not so much out of principle but out of self interest. I was subject to the draft and I didn’t want to be conscripted and shipped off to die in a rice paddy in Southeast Asia. Thus I wasn’t part of the peace movement so much as I participated in the antiwar movement. I’ll briefly discuss one small aspect of the anti-Vietnam War movement’s wide and convoluted history—the attempt to build and sustain a single, overarching antiwar organization in the US. The broadest umbrella coalition of people, organizations and issues seeking to end America’s intervention in Southeast Asia was the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (the Mobe). Continue reading

Utopia: reform or revolution, pt. 2: “What’s Left?” July 2020 (MRR #446)

It is our utopias that make the world tolerable to us.
—Lewis Mumford, 1922

Be realistic, demand the impossible.
—graffito, Paris 1968

For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.
—Audre Lorde, 1984 Continue reading

The populist myth: “What’s Left?” February 2020 (MRR #441)

When the axe entered the forest, the trees said: “The handle is one of us.”

—Turkish proverb

I remember a brief carefree idyll when I was fourteen. I lived with my family in Ventura, California, went to Balboa Junior High, and had teenager jobs the occasional evening, weekend or summer. But I spent all my spare time at the beach swimming, surfing and skateboarding. When I enrolled in Buena High School the head gym teacher, Mason Parrish, put all the incoming sophomores through a battery of athletic tests to determine in which sports we might excel. Parrish coached the football team, and was in the process of building Buena’s swim and water polo teams to win multiple national awards, compete in the 1968-72 Olympic trials, and field numerous Junior Olympic Champions. I was a natural in the water, so Coach Parrish recruited me immediately for swimming and water polo.

Parrish was an old school, conservative high school gym coach who began and ended every game with a Christian prayer. He required loyalty from his athletes in school and expected us to practice routines, lift weights, and train regularly outside of class on our own time. All I wanted was to have fun, swim, and go to the beach. Parrish started me in a few swimming competitions and played me in a couple of water polo games. But when he realized I lacked the dedication and drive to give him the full commitment he demanded, he benched me for the duration of the semester. Parrish was openly disappointed, my gung-ho teammates disdained me, and I still had to show up for team practice and events. I was developing, maturing and acquiring new, formative interests in my adolescent life. But my love for swimming was irreparably damaged. Continue reading

Communizing Moments: “What’s Left?” May 2018, MRR #420

Enjoy only 2 cosmetics, enough sleep & Dr. Bronner’s ‘Magic Soap’ to clean body-mind-soul-spirit instantly uniting One! All-One! Absolute cleanliness is Godliness! […] For who else but God gave man this sensuous passion, Love that can spark mere dust to life! Revealing beauty in our Eternal Father’s fashion, poetry, uniting All-One, all brave, all life! Who else but God! Who else!

snippets from label for 32 oz. bottle of
“Dr. Bronner’s Supermild 18-in-1 Baby-Castile Soap”

We wanted to communalize our politics, our friendships, our minds. We were five anarchists who, having read Murray Bookchin’s Post-Scarcity Anarchism, decided we were an affinity group that wanted to take matters to the next level. We drove into Los Padres National Park and hiked a day into the Sespe Wilderness. Our plan was to camp, fast for three days, and then drop mescaline together. It was 1971, and even back then real mescaline was rare. It was probably LSD. It wasn’t just the times; we were a little nuts. Continue reading

Enemy Of My Enemy: “What’s Left?” March 2018, MRR #418

Comrade.

The word conjures up images of Lenin and Stalin in heroic poses, May Day parades and the Red Army marching, red stars and red flags on proud display, the usual Cold War Soviet iconography. But the original word in Russian—tovarisch—simply means “friend.” A century of anti-Communist hysteria has turned it into an ironic epithet, an evocation of Satan, and a “tell” for fellow travelers. A mirror process among Leftists has turned it into a term of endearment, a signifier of solidarity, and a way to differentiate regular friends from people who have one’s back.

So, who do I consider my comrades?

I have a half dozen close personal friends, my wife included, who I would qualify with the term comrade. Most of them share my generally Leftist politics, and beyond these individuals I reserve the term for political people, groups, organizations, and tendencies on the left of the Left. In this category is much of the anarchist/ultraleft anti-authoritarian milieu that I regularly take to task in this column. I consider these comments comradely criticisms, for the most part, focused on problematic Leftist practice like sectarianism, looking for the next big thing, viewing the enemy of one’s enemy as one’s friends, etc. Embedded in these critiques of practice however have been criticisms of equally troublesome Leftist political theory. Two abiding, yet equally thorny Leftist political stances I dealt with in MRR #415 were anti-imperialism and anti-fascism, which have been “standard issue” on the orthodox Left since the 1930s but which have become part of the warp and woof of that anti-authoritarian milieu only since the 1960s. Continue reading

Potentia Habet Terminos Non: “What’s Left?” November 2016, MRR #402

long-2
I don’t recollect the TV commercial in question, but everything is available via YouTube nowadays. I do remember the controversy surrounding it. A cute, freckled, blonde-haired little girl is in a field of flowers picking the petals off a daisy, counting them out as she goes. When she picks the last petal, a countdown begins, she looks up, and the camera dives deep into her eye. A thermonuclear explosion goes off against the black background as a snippet of Barry Goldwater’s speech plays laying out his perceived choice before god between love and annihilation. Then the final verbal message, the stakes are too high, plays over a title card plea to elect Lyndon Johnson president in 1964. It was the first time I was aware of someone warning against potential Republican fascism, and that only obliquely in a vague, entirely faux “liberty or death” sort of way.

The whole world was exploding in 1968, or so it seemed. Paris, France and Prague, Czechoslovakia experienced a short-lived revolutionary spring; the guerrilla Tet Offensive raged throughout South Vietnam; the Mexican army brutally massacred students in Mexico City; Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated and riots erupted across the US; Robert Kennedy was also gunned down; a police riot at the Democratic National Convention brought Richard Nixon to power—these were but a few of the events that politicized me. I became an anarchist and went from a pious pacifism to wanting to join a rapidly radicalizing SDS, which by that time was tearing itself apart thanks to New Left sectarianism. My precipitous political development had me believing that Nixon—the law-and-order candidate—would round up all the hippies into labor camps, shoot black people on sight, and usher in a red-white-and-blue fascism. With the ratification of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18, I immediately registered to vote Peace and Freedom Party. In 1972, I voted for the People’s Party’s presidential candidate Benjamin Spock in the primaries and George McGovern in the national election.

Living in San Diego by 1980, I was a full-on lefty anarcho making a transition to commie ultraleftism. Ronald Reagan was running for president. As California’s governor, Reagan had said in reference to quelling riotous student protesters: “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with. No more appeasement.” No wonder me and my fellow lefties, and many liberals to boot, thought that Reagan would call “action” on a Hollywood version of fascism for the country when he got elected. Reagan liked to start and finish his various political campaigns in San Diego for superstitious good luck, so I was part of the protest at the Chargers/Padres sports stadium that hoped to “welcome” the newly elected President Reagan into office. My girlfriend got into a scuffle with a cop and I spent the rest of the evening bailing her out of jail. In hindsight, Hinkley did a far better job in welcoming Reagan to the presidency, but the left of the Left was fully prepared for some Weimar-style street fighting. It was bullets, not ballots, or so we thought.

These Republican campaigns helped move American politics inexorably to the right, but they did not bring about a homegrown fascism. Indeed, the Democratic campaigns of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and even Barack Obama also contributed in their own ways to the rightwing drift of US politics without actually inaugurating fascism proper. So now we’re being told by various liberals and progressives that Donald Trump represents more than your ordinary everyday run-of-the-mill rightwing, authoritarian, racist, nationalist politics; that he actually steps over the line into fascism proper, capital “F” Fascism if you will; and that we have no choice but to do everything in our power to elect Hillary Clinton, up to and including what Bill Maher recently suggested by warning: “Every cause has to take a back seat to defeating Trump. He’s like an infection, you don’t fool around with it. […] There’s no room for boutique issues in an armageddon election.”

Bullshit!

An article in The Economist entitled “Past and future Trumps” (7-16-16) argues that Republican Trump fits the strongman type, much like the dictatorial caudillos of Latin America, but with an Anglo American emphasis on nativism, isolationism, and populism. This election pits him against Democrat Clinton who is a corporatist, globalist, and multiculturalist, and it behooves us to remember that the Democrats and Republicans are two sides of the same coin. Or as Gore Vidal once quipped: “There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party … and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat.” There actually might be more than a dime’s worth of difference between the Democrats and Republicans this election, to paraphrase George Wallace, but both are rightwing parties bent on taking the US further to the right, one in a free-trade globalist direction and the other in a protectionist nationalist way.

So, which is it? Are the Democrats and Republicans fundamentally the same? Or are there differences that make a difference between the two parties? Is Trump your usual rightwing Republican asshole? Or is he a fascist-in-the-making, a crypto-fascist, an ordinary fascist, or a formal Fascist? Perhaps I should make up my mind.

In keeping with the Wayback Machine theme this column started with, we of the 60s persuasion tended to call anything even remotely rightwing, authoritarian, racist, or nationalist “fascist” all the time. Our rather indiscriminate use of the epithet to broadly tar our political opponents tended to degrade the English language, not to mention any political discourse so that the term eventually became meaningless. It also obscured some real important political distinctions. Take black men for instance. Compared to white men, their unemployment rates are over twice as high, their incomes are less than one sixth, and their incarceration rates are nearly six and a half times as much. Could they justifiably claim they already live under some form of fascism, whether capital “F” or not, especially when compared to their white counterparts?

Some differentiation is thus in order, and we’ll start by defining fascism. Fascism began coalescing as a distinct rightwing politics during the first World War, gained ground in various European political movements in the interwar years before taking power in Italy and Germany, cohered like-minded regimes and political movements around a political/military alliance, finally to fight and lose the second World War. Not only do I consider fascism as encompassing both Italian Fascism and German Nazism, I think its military defeat in 1945 means that what we’re dealing with today is a neo-Fascist/neo-Nazi movement substantially changed by that defeat and by fascism’s propensity for political synchronicity, yet one still committed to a fascist minimum, a generic fascist core ideology. In the bewildering academic tangle that is Fascist Studies, I side with Roger Griffin who argues that:
[F]ascism is best defined as a revolutionary form of nationalism, one that sets out to be a political, social and ethical revolution, welding the ‘people’ into a dynamic national community under new elites infused with heroic values. The core myth that inspires this project is that only a populist, trans-class movement of purifying, cathartic national rebirth (palingenesis) can stem the tide of decadence.

So while Trump’s alt.right fanboys definitely are fascists, as are many of his good-ol-boy back slapping paleoconservative followers, Trump himself is not a fascist. And no quantity of “Make America Great” made-in-China red baseball caps can make his clownish, blowhard politics into some kind of revolutionary palingenetic nationalism. He’s a demagogic schoolyard bully along the lines of Huey Long, but a more up-to-date comparison might be to Silvio Berlusconi. That’s not to say his campaign does not give aid-and-comfort to American fascists, or reinforce some of the more reactionary aspects of US politics, and therefore should be defeated. Yet the liberal/progressive scare mongering that we are on the eve of goose stepping into a Donald Trump presidency is way overblown.

Ah, but wasn’t Juan Perón one of those Latin American caudillos who promulgated a variation of fascism and aligned himself with the Axis powers during the second World War? And didn’t Gilles Dauvé argue, writing as Jean Barrot in “Fascism/Anti-Fascism,” that “Fascism was a particular episode in the evolution of Capital towards totalitarianism, an evolution in which democracy has played and still plays a role as counter-revolutionary as that of fascism,” and thus that fascism and democracy are but two faces of the capitalist state? Couldn’t US democracy turn on a dime and become fascism?

Yes, and no. Dauvé’s overly simplistic and somewhat dogmatic analysis posits a unitary capitalist state run by a unified capitalist ruling class where fascism is one of that state’s and class’s unified responses to a capitalism in crisis when democracy no longer works. (Another implication of Dauvé’s opposition to antifascism—that we don’t need to combat fascism—is belied by a like-minded ultraleft that never held back from fighting fascists.) This vulgar, mechanistic, ultraleft interpretation of Marx’s famous quote that “[t]he executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” does Marxism no favors.

We can agree that fascism is a special case of generic rightwing politics, and that American politics are of a piece left and right, without clearly grasping the relationship of one to the other. I suggest a little less Hegelian dialectics and a little more Heisenbergian simultaneity, in particular the latter’s uncertainty principle in which light is defined as simultaneously a wave and a particle. The idea that two contradictory things can also constitute a kind of unity doesn’t sit well with the more linearly-minded among us. Light is both particle and wave. A singular American party politics is both rightwing and leftwing, Republican and Democratic. Fascism is both a part of generic rightwing politics and sui generis. This duality also applies to behavior, in that we can simultaneously hold that US electoral politics are irredeemably corrupt while voting for the lesser of two evils, or realize that the capitalist ruling class has democratic and fascist faces in power while fighting that fascism in the streets. Two things can be fundamentally the same and yet crucially different.

Personally, I square this circle by not investing too much in the analysis or the actions in any particular case. Yes, US winner-take-all, ideologically narrow party politics are shit, but I don’t endorse third party nonsense or pie-in-the-sky calls for world revolution. Nor do I make a big deal of voting for the lesser of two evils, whether that’s Clinton over Trump or Sanders over Clinton. And make no mistake, Bernie is still the lesser of two evils. Yes, the bourgeoisie has democratic and fascist options when dealing with a capitalism in crisis, but I don’t deny that black people face a more fascistic existence in this country than do white people. Nor do I denigrate those who would fight fascists in the streets even though I don’t agree that the fight against fascism must be the be-all-and-end-all to our politics.

This is part of the centuries-old debate on the Left pitting reform against revolution. I never subscribed to the notion, popular in the 60s, that “the revolution” will happen sooner if we eschew liberal reforms or if reactionary politicians are elected. Nor do I buy into the myth that winning a string of incremental reforms brings us any closer to social revolution, let alone socialism, even while I acknowledge that incremental reforms do make a difference in the lives of ordinary people. The point is to be engaged in social change—whether incremental or revolutionary—without attachment, in the spirit of “When you are hungry, eat; when you are tired, sleep.” More on that next column.

FOOTNOTE:

[Fascism is] a genuinely revolutionary, trans-class form of anti-liberal, and in the last analysis, anti-conservative nationalism. As such it is an ideology deeply bound up with modernization and modernity, one which has assumed a considerable variety of external forms to adapt itself to the particular historical and national context in which it appears, and has drawn a wide range of cultural and intellectual currents, both left and right, anti-modern and pro-modern, to articulate itself as a body of ideas, slogans, and doctrine. In the inter-war period it manifested itself primarily in the form of an elite-led “armed party” which attempted, mostly unsuccessfully, to generate a populist mass movement through a liturgical style of politics and a programme of radical policies which promised to overcome a threat posed by international socialism, to end the degeneration affecting the nation under liberalism, and to bring about a radical renewal of its social, political and cultural life as part of what was widely imagined to be the new era being inaugurated in Western civilization. The core mobilizing myth of fascism which conditions its ideology, propaganda, style of politics and actions is the vision of the nation’s imminent rebirth from decadence. (Roger Griffin, “The palingenetic core of generic fascist ideology”)

Of countercultures and temper tantrums: “What’s Left?” August 2015, MRR #387

Mildred: Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?
Johnny: Whadda you got?

Marlon Brando and Peggy Maley, “The Wild One”

They had lost politically but they had won culturally and maybe even spiritually.

John Lichfield (writing of the 60s generation)
“Egalité! Liberté! Sexualité!: Paris, May 1968”
The Independent, 9/23/08

If I had to describe my political philosophy, I would say: “Libertarianism now, fascism later.”

J.P. Nash

She was a child of Beatniks who came of age in the mid-1960s and lived in San Francisco. There, she was a part of the hippie counterculture, danced with Sufi Sam’s dervish troupe in Precita Park, attended the 1967 Human Be-In/Gathering of the Tribes in Golden Gate Park, and belonged to the Diggers. After the “Death of Hippie” event in the Haight-Ashbury, as well as a series of high-profile drug busts, she moved to a commune in Olema in 1969.

He was a red diaper baby born of Communist Party members and lived in Berkeley. There, he participated in the burgeoning New Left, attended UC Berkeley on a Vietnam War student deferment, helped organize the takeover of Provo Park, and was a member of Students for a Democratic Society. After the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention, and the “Bloody Thursday” riot in Berkeley’s Peoples Park, he joined the Weatherman faction in 1969.

They met, fell in love, and married sometime at the end of 1970, beginning of 1971. Maybe it was at Vortex I, or during the Chicano Moratorium, or doing gestalt therapy at Esalen. Or perhaps it was at a Renaissance Pleasure Faire, or during the trial of the Chicago 8, or sitting in on classes at Black Mountain College. The exact date and place were never clear as she was hitchhiking around the country and he had gone underground after the Greenwich Village townhouse debacle. Besides, it was the 60s, or the second half of that decade anyway. If you remembered the 60s, you weren’t there. They stayed together a couple of years, even had a couple of kids. But they couldn’t make it work. She was indelibly eccentric and individualistic, New Agey spiritual and profoundly anti-political. He was rabidly political and atheistic, consensus-prone and surprisingly conventional. They got together on and off over the next decade or two, had a couple more kids, but finally decided to call it quits and finalize their divorce at the end of the twentieth century. True to form, they couldn’t agree when to do that, she insisting that it be at the end of 1999 and he at the end of 2000.

As the 1970s dragged into the 1980s, and then the 1990s, they lived their separate lives. She watched as most of what she believed in during her counterculture days entered the mainstream. Not only had sex, drugs, and rocknroll become commonplace, but so had a quirky entrepreneurial individualism and appreciation for alternative lifestyles. She eventually moved to Portland as an apprentice pastry chef, where she now owns a regional mini-chain of successful artisanal bio-organic paleo-grained brick oven bakeries, writes a popular food blog, and lives comfortably in the Pearl District. He watched as the Left he fought for retreated from the streets, ultimately to retrench in its final academic bastion. Not only had revolutionary politics and Marxism given way to identity politics and French postmodernism, but the Left’s scant successes had quickly dead-ended in political correctness. He eventually resurfaced with a teaching career in New York City, where he is now a tenured Sociology professor at NYU, lectures and writes on social movements, and lives comfortably in Park Slope.

And here’s where I walk away from my all-to-obvious analogy. My initial point is that pundits who proclaim that those who fomented the 1960s “lost politically, but won culturally” commit the most basic error of constructing a straw man out of the notion that there was one, unitary “60s generation.” There were two main currents to the 60s—the hippie counterculture and the Left/social movements—that share the coincidence of their proximate births and participant demographics, but little else. These two currents frequently interacted and occasionally merged, but ultimately they remained discrete, and experienced different fates. The hippies won culturally, and the New Leftists lost politically.

The conflation of different aspects of the 1960s is often not just an error of punditry, its a tactic of conservative Kulturkampf. Conservatives have long attempted to fabricate an imaginary, monolithic enemy-from-within, responsible for the decline of America and the corruption of its moral fiber since the 60s. The hedonistic hippie counterculture was in complete cahoots with a New Left become New Communist Movement, which was secretly in league with the Great Society welfare state, Democratic Party permissive liberalism, a mainstream media monopoly, corrupt socialistic unions, ad nauseam; thus inventing one sweeping, victorious anti-American juggernaut that every right-minded, freedom-loving, patriotic citizen needed to oppose by any means necessary. Culture wars have been the party line ever since the Reagan presidency. During that time conservatives moved American politics steadily, inexorably, to the right under an ideological variation known as neoliberalism, itself a supposed revival of 19th century classical Manchester liberalism. Because let’s make no mistake here, whether the counterculture won and the Left lost in the short run, capitalism wins out in the long run. The individualistic “do your own thing” hippies fit in perfectly with America’s self-reliant pioneer individualism and besides, everybody wanted to make money after the 60s.

I decided not to get cute and extend my original analogy to follow the children of my fantasy hippie/New Left couple by describing which one became a Wall Street broker versus which one became a punk rocker and so on. Most who went through the 60s as active participants, as well as their offspring, got jobs and became productive members of society, so what I’m interested in are those who rebelled against all that, even against the 60s, even for rebellion’s sake, oftentimes forming their own countercultures in the process. Rarely did such counter countercultural rebellions lump both “parents” into a single target however. Heavy Metal as a counterculture maintains a direct line of descent from the 60s counterculture, which makes its rebelliousness all rather conventional, even traditional. Punk rock rebellion was against “all that hippie shit” and created its own counterculture based on “do it yourself” and “fuck shit up.” But because punk was basically apolitical, it was easily swayed by politics, left or right, ultimately to descend into peace punks vs skinheads by the 80s.

There were those who had nothing against sex, drugs, and rocknroll, but who thought all that hippie “peace and love” was naïve bullshit. What chafed them unduly were the demands for political correctness which originated in academia, echoed around government and the media, and were blithely parroted by Gen X kids. These young white dudes, and they were mostly young white males, were angry about the influence of the PC Left in America. Inspired by the zine Answer Me! produced by Jim and Debbie Goad from 1991 to 1994, they created a rabid if limited anti-PC counterculture which, according to Spin Magazine, quickly transcended pissed off, working class whiteboy Jim Goad and his “fuck you and your feelings too” zine. There was the Unpop art movement, various publishing companies like Feral House, even an Angry White Male tour which featured Jim Goad, Mike Diana, Shane Bugbee, the Boone Bros., Skitzo, and King Velveeda. Lots of young angry white boys were plenty pissed that they now had to consider the perspectives of women, blacks, gays, and other minorities, and they believed their misogynist, racist, homophobic, frequently humorous invective was not “punching down” but rather “punching up” because, you know, liberalism and the Left were really in control.

Aside from Goad, the usual suspects in this post-60s contrarian counterculture included Boyd Rice, Brian Clark, Shaun Partridge, Adam Parfrey, Lorin Partridge, Nick Bougas/A. Wyatt Mann, Michael Moynihan, Larry Wessel, et al. As is invariably the case, antagonisms and rifts eventually split up these anti-PC counter countercultural bad boys, since they had really little in common other than their hatred of the Left, liberalism, and PC politics. Some drifted off into business-as-usual conservatism, others became neofascists, but most just wanted to make a buck. Their immediate heir was Vice Media, which at its inception as a magazine combined muckraking journalism with frat boy humor and soft porn skin mag aesthetics. What Lizzie Widdicombe described in “The Bad-Boy Brand” for the New Yorker as Vice’s early combination of “investigative reporting with a sensibility that is adolescent, male, and proudly boorish” has since been moderated for the sake of maximizing profit and moving into the mainstream. That leaves folks like Gavin McInnes—big Goad fan and ex-Vice cofounder fired for being unwilling to go along with the program—to continue the good fight ranting against the Left, liberals, and political correctness today.

One thing I find interesting is that right-wing libertarianism seems to be the default politics for those individuals intent on winning the culture wars while still snorting coke and watching porn. Goad might best be described as paleo-libertarian, while both Vice and McInnes are self-proclaimed libertarian. I think that claiming an absolute right to freedom of expression, aside from triggering such knee-jerk libertarianism, is invariably used as an excuse for their juvenile, rude, malicious, thuggish behavior. Once past hating on the Left, without their libertarian label of convenience, and no longer young, these angry white male morons would just be your run-of-the-mill GOP conservative good ol’ boys, maybe with a smidgen of neo-Nazi wingnut thrown in to keep things interesting. Said another way, scratch a Vice-like libertarian and you might just uncover a fascist.

Ethan A. Russell wrote: “In retrospect people often seem embarrassed by that time—the late sixties into the seventies—as if suddenly confronted with some lunatic member of your family, once revered, now disgraced.” (Dear Mr. Fantasy: Diary of a Decade: Our Time and Rock and Roll) Having experienced much of the 60s as a late hippie and New Leftist, I’m neither embarrassed by my life then nor do I revere that complicated decade now. I do think that efforts to frame things in terms of a singular “60s generation” are misinformed and flawed at best, and at worst help to construct a demonic hollow man out of the 60s as a conservative culture wars ploy. The Angry White Male shtick—with Goad for real and with McInnes as pose—will be around as long as political correctness persists. But that’s so, so boring.

(Copy editing by K Raketz.)

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